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What is Our Dream

2008 November 11
by Julie Clawson

Last Tuesday night we sat on pins and needles awaiting the outcome of the election. The results and Obama’s speech in Grant Park were defining moments for our nation. I cried at hearing his words and for the first time in a long time dared to hope for our future. As the response poured in there were two sentiments I heard repeated over and over again – that this is an historic moment and that now anyone can dream of being President. I agree with the first, but I have a few issues with the second.

Of course this is historic. In a country that 150 years ago enslaved Africans and in living memory segregated blacks from whites, overcoming that history is powerful no matter who you voted for. That said I can’t join the chorus rejoicing that the dream is now open to all. Why? Because in all truth it isn’t (I’ll explain in a moment) and because I don’t support that particular dream.

Electing a black man as president is huge, there is no denying that. But that doesn’t by default mean that anyone can achieve the same. There has been much talk about glass ceilings during this election cycle, but I am still unsure if a woman could be elected President in this country. With so many churches still preaching the inferiority of women, blatant sexism is still too accepted to be so easily overcome. Even the reactions to the election results demonstrate the undercurrents of racism in our country. Down here in Texas a noose was hung from a tree at a major university and a UT football player was kicked off the team for a racial slur he posted on Facebook. Barriers to freedom and equality are still alive and well. And does anyone really think that a Muslim, or an Atheist, or a LGBT person could be elected president? Someday perhaps, but that dream is still too flimsy to grasp. There is still much work to be done and our celebrations shouldn’t lull us into complacency.

But as I mentioned on Eugene Cho’s blog the other day, I am uncomfortable with dangling the dream of becoming President of the USA as the ultimate achievement. When encouraging my children in their life path, I don’t want to convey to them that obtaining the highest level of power and prestige possible is the target they should be aiming for. I am all for empowering them to be who they are meant to be (even if that is president), but I want to avoid encouraging the will to power so to speak. I’m also not a fan of defining success as making lots of money and presenting the whole doctor/lawyer/banker career option as an ideal either. I want them to believe that a successful life involves fulfilling the command to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. Money and power are incidental to achieving those things (and often obstacles as well). Of course doctors, lawyers, bankers and perhaps even president can live in those ways but so can teachers, artists, baristas, and parents. I want to tell my kids that they can be anything they want to be, I just don’t want to encourage them to want the wrong things.

So as we bask in the historic moment, I hope the dream we promote is one of justice. The hammer of justice can break down barriers and empower the disenfranchised, but it is wielded not in the name of power but in the name of love.


5 Responses leave one →
  1. mel permalink
    November 11, 2008

    Hear hear! (from a Canadian who has never been more optimistic about your country)

  2. November 12, 2008

    I wholeheartedly agree that we shouldn’t encourage our children to be one certain thing. I also would say that I don’t want to discourage my children from being one certain thing either.

    I think the best we can hope for, as you say, is to instill Micah’s admonishment (my son’s namesake) in our children and hope that whatever profession they pick will be an outgrowth of that. Oh, that more parents would hear your words and invoke them with their parenting practices.

    Of course, getting to choose a profession implies a certain amount of cultural power, too. (Or in my case, to choose to be a stay-at-home parent). I wonder if a young black man whose parents work whatever jobs they can get to pay the bills would see achieving the position of lawyer, doctor, banker or president as an alternative to enforced poverty would see a desire for financial stability as a wrong thing to want.

    It is a luxury that I could choose not to be a doctor, a lawyer and a banker. For many, they don’t even have that choice.

    I think the power that Obama’s election, in the eyes of our societies others, is not about power, but empowerment. It creates a new cultural discourse in which the most powerful images of African-Americans aren’t in entertainment or in sports where exploitation continues by a different name.

  3. November 12, 2008

    Thank you for this reminder of what I as a Christian Parent should care about with regard to giving my children hope.

  4. November 12, 2008

    My eldest is 16, very bright but not interested at all in applying himself at school. This used to really eat at me. Took a while for me to get excited about him living his life, on his schedule, whether that includes college or not. It’s easy to get sucked into the worldly view of success. Thank you for this post.

  5. November 25, 2008


    Hi Julie,

    I just wanted to say, in some low-keyed sort of way, “You are too cool!” I agree with so much of what you say and I know we share a lot of our values.

    Redefining success and the goals of the American Dream. Becoming wealthy and influential should not be set as the measurements of our rightful achievement. I have often heard it said that GOD has not called us to be successful, but to be faithful. Integrity, come what may, should be our motto.



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